Sunday, July 31, 2005

Day 89

Travelled out from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, to visit the JEATH museum and travel on the railway line
made famous in 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. After lunch at Nam Tok, we went to the Hellfire Pass cutting & museum
Platform,_Hellfire_Pass_Museum,_nr._Kanchanaburi Hellfire_Pass_2,_nr._Kanchanaburi
then onto a longtail boat
to stay the night on a floating rafthouse.

There's an interestingly random approach to the spelling of signs in English here; any chunk of text with more than a few words is almost certain to have a spelling mistake. My guess would be that the Thai script is somewhat ideographic, and so spelling isn't really a concept that has much relevance here. [Edit: checking in a book or two, it looks like Thai script is vaguely syllabic.]

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Day 88

[reading: China Miéville, "Iron Council"]

Safely arrived at the hotel, and took a quick snooze before heading out via the skytrain to Mo Chit and the Chatuchak weekend market. The hotel room is pretty far up, so we get a decent view of downtown Bangkok.
We joined up with the rest of the tour group and the guide (Tiger), and headed just down the road for dinner. An observation from the guide book is already readily apparent: the number of middle-aged western men who are out and about with young cute Thai girls. Several sets of them in the bar, staring into space and looking very bored, presumably because there's little common language (the younger guy with three Thai girls following him around was more impressive, though). According to the guide book, we're actually staying quite near one of the smaller red light districts, which probably explains it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Day 87

[reading: J.K.Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"]

So, twelve hours on a plane to Bangkok today. I don't actually mind long haul flights—it gives me a chance to concentrate on reading a book from cover to cover, and to watch the odd silly movie.

What did get annoying was that it seemed to be my day to attract space invaders. First, the guy who came and sat next to me at the airport kept on overflowing his chair into mine (until I growled at him), and then something similar started happening with the guy next to me on the plane. I didn't fancy the prospect of fighting off his elbows for twelve hours, so I 'accidentally' left a magazine wedged at the side of my seat, which effectively acted as an mini wall to keep him out. Petty, I know, but much more comfortable.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Day 86

I've been doing my packing for the holiday, and my plans for what I'm going to take have had to be adjusted somewhat . . . driven by the fact that my bag was two-thirds full before I'd even put any clothes in. In the end, I decided to compromise on the photography gear (which sadly means that my Panosaurus won't get its first outing). Because we're planning on spending a week at the beach, I didn't want to reduce the amount of reading material I'm bringing with me, despite it weighing in at 896 + 607 + 450 + 616 + 400 + 483 + 926 + 926 = 5304 pages.

This thing will go quiet for a bit now, and then it will probably become a (back-dated) photo/travel blog. There aren't normally many photos in here because, frankly, I don't leave the house that often, but I guess three weeks in Thailand counts as leaving the house.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Day 85

Nipped out to see Fantastic Four at lunchtime, which is a competent comic adaptaption, but nothing special. It had the usual problems with a slow start (to introduce the characters and how they get to be super) and a bad guy with no real motive, but I guess that's all to be expected.

On a more interactive note, also met up with some friends from my old work to play a one-off RPG session. Contemporary setting, and I got to be the bad guy—although it turned out that being the éminence grise meant that I didn't actually get that involved with the game. I was tempted to be more proactive on a couple of occasions, but it turned out that my masterful plan of complete inactivity won the day. Cue: evil laugh.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Day 84

Somewhat confusingly, today turned out to be Thursday, what with chimichangas and everything. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

The book on complex analysis I'm reading at the moment recommends a program for visualizing complex transformations. However, it's not one I'm going to buy—firstly, there isn't a Mac version, but more importantly the price is $130.

To be fair, there is a free demo version, but even so I'm stunned at the price of the full version. I mean, who's going to cough up that much for a mathematics visualization aid? I suppose there will be the odd lecturer who uses the software in a class and can charge the cost to their department, but I can't imagine there'll be anyone else. Maybe I'm wrong and they get a steady income from it, in which case maybe I should stop giving this sort of stuff away for free :-).

Monday, July 25, 2005

Day 83

After having to wait a while for v7.1 to come out, I finally got around to getting a copy of Logic Express. A major reason for getting it was so that I could get at a bunch of old files that I put together in the Windows version of Logic Audio Gold 4.5; fortunately, it turned out that the sales droid hadn't actually lied to me, and it did read the files.

Still, nothing is ever that easy. Going through all of the files one by one, I had to manually: change the window layouts to fit the screen, the MIDI output to hit the relevant port, and a bunch of font settings to use available fonts. There were also a few files that the conversion process appeared to corrupt—enough to generate incomprehensible error dialogs ("clearrec: odd pseq" isn't really a message that should be visible to an end user) and crash the program. Going round again and doing one step at a time (with saves between each step) seemed to work better, but it didn't exactly inspire confidence.

Of course, I know need to grovel through the manuals again to understand how to drive my sound module. I did this on the old system and carefully saved an idiot-proof template file so I wouldn't have to do it again . . . until now. Urgh. I had also hoped that the Apple influence might make Logic a bit more user-friendly (say, along the lines of Garage Band), but no real sign of it so far. As with previous versions, the manual still seems incompletely translated from the German via gobbledegook.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Day 82

[reading: Tristan Needham, "Visual Complex Analysis"]

Somewhere along the way, I seemed to get volunteered to do some concreting in Essex today. I was helping someone who knew what they were doing, so I learnt a few things about how to mix and lay the stuff. The main thing I learnt, though, was this: pay someone else to do it. Mixing 800kg of concrete by hand is hard work; next time, we need to rent a mixer—either a machine or a person, don't care as long as it's not me.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Day 79

Sometimes you (correctly) anticipate the worst, only not the timescales. On repainting the back door step, I guessed that Reg, the cat who doesn't live here, would wander over to investigate. I knew I'd have to leave the back door open while the paint dried, so I planned to set up a ramp over the step, to bridge over the wet paint.

Not fast enough. Reg appeared while I was still doing the painting, sat and watched for a couple of minutes, then quickly scuttled into the house. I'm sure he'd have liked to disappear somewhere and hide from me but a) the door to the rest of the house was shut and b) the trail of white pawprints led me straight to him. Sigh. He wasn't very happy about me sponging his paws with white spirit, but it's his own fault for not listening to me.

I also returned a couple of hours later to find some more pawprints in the paint itself; it looks like he'd determinedly stepped around the ramp to get out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Day 78

Today's BIY activity was to touch up the gloss paint around the house. There used to be an old telephone extension cable running up the stairs, but it was damaged and induced crackles on the line, so we pulled it out—taking a whole bunch of bits of paint with it. Ten months later, I've finally got around to splodging some paint over the damage.

Sadly skipped fencing this evening, because my knee has been aching oddly for the last day or two and I figured an hour or two of lunges and flèches wouldn't do it any good. I skipped last week too because it was the club AGM, and I can't make next week, then we're off on holiday, so it'll end up being a six week break. Presumably some part of the multifarious gym activity caused the problem (I'd guess either one of the CV machines which I've recently started doing more on, or the leg press machine).

Monday, July 18, 2005

Day 76

Bit more BIY, but hopefully starting to hit the final straight. Trimmed the other side of the hedge, no CQ incidents. Bit more plastering, this time some finishing plaster on quarter of a wall, so that everything that needs plastering is now done and should be dry by the time I get back from holiday.

Also went out to meet an old friend in the evening. It was good to catch up a bit, and hopefully we'll be able to meet up a bit more frequently than we have done for the last few years. Now I've got a bit more Copious Free Time I might even get back involved in some semi-academic things.

[Edit: noticed a typo which I was going to correct it but somehow BIY seems more appropriate: Bodge It Yourself. It also reminds me of an American friend who could never quite get the acronym right—she'd come out with DYI every time.]

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Day 75

There is clearly some kind of warp in the fabric of the space-time continuum where I live. I live in London; my postcode is in London, my street is on the A-Z, there's a Tube station ten minutes away. All the signs should reliably indicate that I'm in London.

Nevertheless, since we moved in our neighbours have bizarrely insisted on being friendly, nice and, well, neighbourly. One of them even brought us cookies, for heaven's sake. Today's zenith was the neighbourhood summer party, with forty or fifty people bringing food and drink for a picnic on the green.

Where I previously lived, I did eventually get to know a couple of the neighbours, but I lived there for over eight years. Here, it's like living in a mini village. Only with public transport links and two multiscreen cinemas in walking distance. And fewer banjos. It's great.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Day 74

[reading: Scott Meyers, "Effective C++ (3rd edn.)"]

I'm reading "Effective C++" again, with the publication of a new edition, and I'm struck by an observation. It's startling how much of the advice in early parts of the book boils down to: Understand how the compiler works. (Items 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 16 and 17 out of 18 so far)

This is an approach that I've got a lot of sympathy with; I really got to grips with Microsoft Word when I stopped observing the phenomonology of its peculiar behaviour, and instead sat down for half an hour to think about how it might be implemented internally. After that (even though I'm sure I didn't even get close to the true internals), I could cope with and predict the vagaries of the program much more effectively.

However, it does seem to me that one of the points of higher-level computer languages is so that programmers don't have to understand the details of the implementation. I guess if you just memorize the Effective C++ items and forget their explanations, then you can achieve that blissful state of ignorance—but it's safer and better to know the why and the how, which is why Scott's books sell so well.

But this does lead back to my underlying concern: that C++ is too complicated for mere mortal programmers. All of the individual features are there for a good reason, but taken as a whole the language is too big. A top-flight C++ programmer pretty much needs to know the whole of:

That's 1884 pages in total. Even Common Lisp: The Language only weighs in at 971 pages.

I just about trust myself to write C++, but that's only because I know I'll avoid the parts of C++ that I don't understand fully. I've only ever met half a dozen people that I'd completely trust to write C++ (one of them being Scott), which makes for a hard time supporting C++ code.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Day 73

[reading: Frank Miller, "The Hard Goodbye"]

So, more DIY today. My third attempt at filling the holes in the ceiling looks more successful so far, and the self-mix plaster continues to work rather better than the ready mixed stuff I tried before. I also got bored of trying to scrape the old paint off the front wall, and just painted over what was left.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Day 72

Had a bit of a practise with a different kind of plaster for the kitchen, which seemed to work out much better. This one needed mixing from powder, but the resulting goo seemed much stickier and easier to work with.

Also went out to see NIN this evening, which was pretty decent. They played a fair amount of their older stuff, which is good since I'm not keen on the new album. To paraphrase one of the lyrics: 'Ev-ery song is exactly the same'.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Day 71

Urk. Slacker's lunch again. Six hours of drinking, followed almost immediately by sleeping for eleven hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Day 70

[reading: Guy Gavriel Kay, "The Last Light of the Sun"]

Some interesting stuff going on over the pond at the moment. It's times like these where you really feel the sad absence of the Good Doctor. Someone who could really let loose with bile and venom, and wouldn't just sit there and gulp down the official statements. Or to put it another way:

What Would Spider Jerusalem Do? (WWSJD)

(other than hire filthy assistants)

(I remember the first time I encountered "WWJD": it was around eight years ago, and someone at a party had a wristband with the letters on. I asked him what it was a URL for, and lapsed into stunned silence when the meaning was explained to me.)
Thinking about it, I guess the canonical answer is obvious: go after them at a press conference with a bowel disruptor.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Day 69

[reading: Frank Miller, "A Dame to Kill For"]

Hackedy slashedy, where did the day go?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Day 68

Another weekend, another visit to the DIY store. Seems like most of the stuff we're getting this time is intended for re-doing all the things I did last week—artex to cover the ceiling, paint to repaint the ceiling, plaster to redo the walls. Maybe I've done something evil in a past life and I've now been condemned to join the likes of Sisyphus and Tantalus.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Day 67

Met up with my brother for the evening, which involved interesting conversation and copious beer, as usual. During the discussion, we ended up talking about philosophy and wondering: what do philosophers do, these days? So many of the traditional provinces of the philosopher have been stolen and put onto a more substantial footing by the scientists. Logic has been a branch of mathematics for over a century now, metaphysics was long ago overtaken by physics, studies of consciousness are more dominated by the neuroscientists and artificial intelligence researchers, and even parts of ethics are potentially subsumable as part of game theory.

Also, I suspect some fraction of my Copious Free Time may soon be taken up by the new game I bought this morning.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Day 66

Looking at the kitchen ceiling in the harsh light of day, it becomes clear that a) the filled holes are still entirely too obvious and b) the "brilliant white" paint is actually a slightly blue-grey colour. Sigh. Looks like I'll have to artex the ceiling to disguise the unevenness, and then repaint with tin of paint that's actually white.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Day 65

As far as I can tell, everyone I know was nowhere near. Had about five emails and four calls from folk checking I was also nowhere near, which was a tad surprising.

Day 65

Zoinks. My P11D has finally arrived, so I can finish off my tax return and get it in with plenty of time for them to calculate my huge bill. I've gotten it in around this time or earlier in previous years, and it tends to get processed pretty quickly—I guess the big rushes are around the end-Sept and end-Jan deadlines, so at other times they've probably got hordes of staff with nothing to do.

Oddly coincidental that my P11D should turn up on the 7th July, though. I contacted my last employer a couple of weeks ago to prod about it, and they said they would be sending them out at the end of July. I somewhat acidly pointed out the first paragraph of the P11D form says "You must give a copy of this information to the director or employee by 6 July 2005" . . .

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Day 64

Today feels a lot like déjà vu all over again. I went over the holes in the kitchen ceiling again, just like yesterday. (Rather too much like yesterday, in fact. The plan was just to smooth over the plaster a bit, but for one of the holes a slightly over-enthusiastic smoothing pushed the whole plug (or should that be hole plug?) up and out, so I had to start again).

Next was painting the front door. Again.

Then there was cleaning up old tiles for reuse, again. As it turns out, soaking the tiles worked splendidly for making the mortar more removable, although there was still the occasional stubborn tile (as evinced by the gash in my thumb when the scraper slipped to the side).

I've also had my first go at replastering. Fortunately, most of the plastering is in areas that are going to be covered with tiles, so it doesn't matter too much if I make a hash of it. As a beginner, I thought it best to stick to ready mixed, general purpose plaster, but it seemed a bit too dry and powdery. However, when I damped it down slightly, it turned out to be less sticky rather than stuff straight out of the pot, so I guess I should trust the manufacturers more. I'm still not convinced that the whole lot isn't all going to fall out in one big lump, though . . .

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Day 63

Today was my first day of attacking DIY stuff. The first task was to fill the holes in the kitchen ceiling that were left after the rewiring. This turned out to be surprisingly straightforward, given the right materials and a couple of helpful hints; I cut sections of plasterboard that would just fit into the holes, then attached a batten to one side. By pushing these sections up into the holes, the batten would then hold the new chunks of plasterboard level with the existing ceiling. Finally, some plasterboard tape and filler made a fairly neat first pass at filled holes.

Outside of the kitchen, I repainted the front door and started stripping the flaking paint from the outside wall. Of course, I wasn't bright enough to allow for wind or the fact that gloss paint takes ages to dry, so all the little bits of stripped paint got blown onto the wet paint of the door. Sigh.

Also did a bit of quantity surveying, and it looks like there should just about be enough recycled tiles to fill in all the gaps. I started stripping the grout off the edges of the old tiles with a chisel, but getting rid of the layers of mortar on the back (plus plaster and occasionally wallpaper) looks like a trickier business. As an experiment, I'm leaving a few tiles in a bucket of water overnight to see if that helps.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Day 62

[reading: Holger Kantz & Thomas Schreiber, "Nonlinear Time Series Analysis"]

Completed the installation of the new old washing machine by performing a pipectomy, and I'm happy to say that the patient survived and has returned to gainful employment. I've also made my first stab (almost literally) at trimming the small hedge in the front garden, courtesy of a shiny new hedge trimmer.

There's definitely a varying CQ* for different power tools. The hedge trimmer appears to have quite a high CQ at first, what with the two foot blade and the precarious balancing on stepladders, but the CQ value drops sharply when you see it taking several seconds to cut through quite wimpy-looking bits of hedge. The prize for the highest CQ still goes to the circular saw (at least in a domestic setting—I did a woodwork evening class once and some of the big machines they had there had an order of magnitude higher CQs).

I've also had to resort to a bit of nimbyism, and written to the council to object to the pub on the corner getting extended opening hours. I don't like to do it, but I could really do without living 50 yards from one of the very few late-licensed pubs in Wood Green—which I assume will make it a mecca for pissed people between 11pm and 1am, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

(*: CQ stands for 'Casualty Quotient', which is the extent to which setting up and using a power tool feels like one of the bits at the start of Casualty—a red-shirted character doing some DIY project that's going to end in disaster and a trip to A&E.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Day 61

Starting to prepare for the next major project, which is to redecorate the kitchen. When we bought the house, the kitchen was pretty damp, apparently because the damp course had been bridged for years. In fact, when the electricians were doing the rewiring, huge chunks of the plasterwork were just falling off the kitchen walls. (The electrician disconcertingly described this as 'the walls are falling down', which is a fairly panic-inducing message to hear in the first week of owning a house).

Anyway, with a suitable outlay of flipping great wodges of cash, the DPC was re-exposed, the wall was injected with extra anti-damp stuff and parts of the inside were replastered. However, there things stopped—the instructions with the damp-proofing were that it couldn't be redecorated until everything dried out.

So nine months of continuously running a dehumidifier later, we (hopefully) have now got dry walls (and a dead dehumidifier, as it turns out). Redecoration can now happen, but there's quite a lot to do. Starting from the top, we've got holes in the plasterboard ceiling to patch and paint, large chunks of the wall to replaster, a number of tiles to put back up (with a fervent hope that by reducing the tiled area by 25-30 tiles, we'll have enough spares to cope with the inevitable wastage), skirting boards to fix, walls to paint, a radiator to reattach, and pipes to box in.

Hence today involved a long and expensive trip to B&Q, and it's unlikely to be the last.

Oh, and yay: got the washing machine up from the cellar. Continuing the theme of stealing things from the Egyptians, I hit on the idea of teeming numberless hordes of slaves. Or in this case: Mike. BFMI'R'Us. (I guess he's BF and I'm MI).

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Day 60

The first Saturday in July is traditionally time for a punting trip to Oxford, and this year was no exception. What was a little different this year was some pesky event interfering with the transport from and to London; the kick-off in the Turf was delayed by half an hour or so, and the route back involved a digression through Earl's Court (which actually turned out to be useful). Still, the rest of the day turned out to be pretty much the same as the last four years.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Day 59

Boo: the washing machine has died, and now refuses to drain. Draining it by hand with a jug is definitely more time-consuming.

Yay: we have a spare washing machine—part of the jetsam of combining the contents of two existing houses.

Boo: the spare washing machine is in the cellar. Getting it down into the cellar was a reasonably tricky process, but it had the advantage over the current situation in that gravity tends to point downwards.

So I calmly promised I wouldn't try to bring it up from the cellar on my own, then waited until I was on my own in the house and had a go. Despite a certain amount of recent gym activity, I'm hardly Mr. Universe and so more cunning was definitely going to be required.

My rough plan was to take a leaf from the Egyptians' book (or rather papyrus), and lay a plank over the steps to form an inclined plane. Next, I had a collection of old curtain poles and suchlike that I could put between the plank and the washing machine to act as rollers.

This approach did partly work, but had a fatal flaw as a solo effort—when the rollers dropped out from under the bottom of the washing machine, I was distinctly short of hands to pick them up and feed them back in at the top again.

So, defeated, the washing machine remains at the bottom of the stairs and the washing continues to accumulate.